Sunday, January 14, 2007

Risky Business: The Collapse of Junior Caligula's Presidency

The polls keep on signaling new lows for Bu$hCo's approval. As Glenn Greenwald notes:
From Rasmussen Reports, the favorite polling firm of Bush followers:
For the second straight day, 35% of Americans approve of the way that George W. Bush is performing his role as President. That’s the lowest level of Approval ever measured by Rasmussen Reports.
That polling was conducted after the President's "surge" speech. What is particularly notable is this observation:
It is interesting to note that the last time the President’s Approval Ratings hit a new low followed the President’s speech on immigration. Typically, President’s (sic) expect to get a positive bounce following a national address.
It really is striking that whenever one is convinced that Bush's unpopularity ratings have reached their nadir, the one thing that can always drive them even further downward is Bush's appearance on national television to explain himself to the country (or, to use Jules Crittenden's classic formulation: for the President to "address us . . . and show us the way forward"). Even after six years, the more Americans see and hear from George Bush, the more they dislike him.

The collapse of the Bush presidency is truly historic. It is always worth remembering that when Richard Nixon was forced to resign the Presidency, his Gallup approval rating was 25%. The 35% Rasmussen figure for Bush is above the low points measured by most other polls (which is why it is the favorite metric for Bush followers), but it is still abominably low. AP-Ipsos reported several days ago that Bush had just reached an all-time low in its poll -- 32%.
So far, so good. Keep putting the Prez on national tv often enough and he'll be as popular as ebola. One would think that would effectively make him a lame duck with no ability to advance whatever agenda he might have, or to continue "staying the course" on an unpopular war (let alone try escalation) that has proven to be a debacle even to the majority of its initial supporters. One would think. Trouble is, this isn't any ordinary White House administration. Rather the current jackals in the White House act much more like a junta than as elected public servants, ones who as Greenwald notes, continue to seek power for its own sake and who are likely to do more damage the more weakened the junta becomes:
The reason Bush violated the law when eavesdropping is the same reason Lithwick cites to explain his other lawless and extremist measures -- because he wanted purposely not to comply with the law in order to establish the general "principle" that he was not bound by the law, to show that he has the power to break the law, that he is more powerful than the law. This is a President and an administration that are obsessed first and foremost with their own power and with constant demonstrations of their own strength. Conversely, what they fear and hate the most is their own weakness and submission to limitations.

For that reason, the weaker and more besieged the administration feels, the more compelled they will feel to make a showing of their power. Lashing out in response to feelings of weakness is a temptation most human beings have, but it is more than a mere temptation for George Bush. It is one of the predominant dynamics that drives his behavior.

His party suffered historic losses in the 2006 midterm elections as a result of profound dissatisfaction with his presidency and with his war, and his reaction was to escalate the war, despite (really, because of) the extreme unpopularity of that option. And as Iraq rapidly unraveled, he issued orders that pose a high risk of the conflict engulfing Iran. When he feels weak and restrained, that is when he acts most extremely.

Bush officials and their followers talk incessantly about things like power, weakness, domination, humiliation. Their objectives -- both foreign and domestic -- are always to show their enemies that they are stronger and more powerful and the enemies are weaker and thus must submit ("shock and awe"). It is a twisted world view but it dominates their thinking (and that is how our country has been governed for the last six years, which is what accounts for our current predicament). As John Dean demonstrated, a perception of one's weakness and the resulting fears it inspires are almost always what drive people to seek out empowering authoritarian movements and the group-based comforts of moral certitude.

The most dangerous George Bush is one who feels weak, powerless and under attack. Those perceptions are intolerable for him and I doubt there are many limits, if there are any, on what he would be willing to do in order to restore a feeling of power and to rid himself of the sensations of his own weakness and defeat.
The remedy that the Democratic mainstream is using is that of riding out the last two years of Junior Caligula's term and hope for the best. In the meantime, they can use the vicious and incompetent figurehead as a political albatross around the GOP's neck in 2008. The folks who think it'll be that easy are fooling themselves. This White House regime considers itself above the law. The use of signing statements to weasel out of following laws passed by Congress in itself suggests that this is a presidency that is much more comfortable ruling by decree than governing by consent. The next two year promise to get a whole hell of a lot worse unless someone puts the brakes on this junta permanently - ideally that "someone" would be Congress, following the lead of former representative Cynthia McKinney and moving forward on impeachment proceedings.

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